Once upon a time, I led face-to-face classes where a group of us – all people who had struggled with mental health issues (enough to reach out to learn more skilful interactions with the Outside World) – used pen(cil) and paper to speak our truth, to face our fears, to release our dreams. In a safe environment where we followed simple rules about confidentiality, witnessing one another authentically, not “rescuing” one another, adopting the core tenets of mindfulnesss, and even better “kindfulness”.
Well, on one occasion I had prepared a worksheet (play-page sounds more appropriate, as I love us to be playful and to rediscover the spirit of fun) – all about the Face… I had come up with BrainDumps exploring phrases and prompts that included FACE, and GoldenThreadWork to match, and had created a mini meditation involving self-massage of our own face, as a sensory break from all the heart-mind stuff.
Imagine then how aghast, nay haunted I felt (you have to know that many in the class were what you could call Highly Sensitive Persons) when into the classroom – already buzzing with the activity we had started – burst a new group member, whose lovely face was partially concealed under a network of medical adhesive tape, securing patches of gauze – over one eye, a ridge of nose, a tract of cheek, right round to one ear.
Here was a woman in the course of treatment for a cancer that affected half of her face. And I thought she was (understandably) fragile in a way that challenged my vestigial skills in healthcare.
I had to think on my feet, and improvise. Clearly the exercises that the others were engaged in were not appropriate for her, as she quickly confirmed. But by facing into the appearance of the momentous moments before us, and by resisting the temptation to look away in distress, I managed somehow to have a frank and honest conversation with her about how she most wanted to use our healing space, and what she wished to write about.
Before even her classmates had reached a sufficient pause in activity for me to invite ‘reading back’ from the most eager writers (and even from the shyest), this extraordinary woman had seized her creative moment to face into fantasy, into history, and into fabrication of time and place.
Or de-fabrication (if that is a word? It is now), because she had written a fantastical, and febrile, feeling-scape of the act of excavating under rock and sand that preceded the discovery of the Tomb of Tutenkhamun in Egypt in 1922.
Her hazy-aired account was extraordinary, vivid, and breath-taking, so that we, her rapt audience, were nearly choking in the dusty obscurity before we broke through , gasping, to the treasures beneath the shroud of solid earth. The azure of reflected sky was visible again underground, just as (in my own tale at least) at Howard Carter’s archaeological dig.
And better even than that, she had presented her writing to the group as a gift of beauty, wonder, awe, for us to receive the treasure of her self-presentation as intact, bold, brave and vibrant as the colours of the gems she – as miner-narrator – revealed from their hiding place in her imagination.
I feel humbled by the memory, and remember that this is why I teach – to allow myself to remain in the after-glow of the expressed ways in which each of us reveals our essential humanity, dignity, and wholeness.
Warm-up, “gratefuls”, and brain dump
(taken from that class in January 2018)
In your notebook write out and complete these without a second thought:
🙂 Today I am feeling …
☹ Today I am afraid that …
Today I am grateful for (three items; if necessary you can pirate 🏴☠️ them from a happier time 🙂 )
now try one, any, or all of these:
- the face I show to the world is/could be
- my secret face
- it’s hard [for him/ for her] to keep face
- chalk-face, coal-face, rock-face, mock-face, clock-face
Here are Kanga and Roo (both aged 65) putting on a brave face, even though the latter sometimes gets submerged in the rapids (when Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin lead an expedition to the North Pole) and Kanga herself is still practising, like me over decades, being a caring parent while also letting go. Hence L-plate (found on the beach).
Look and tell
- Select a mirror [ from your home] and look into it, through it, or beyond it
- Now (with this mirror or through an imaginary mirror) write what this face might share about your past, your present, and/or your hoped-for future
In an earlier episode of this long-running series (a year ago), we briefly visited the power of affirmation. I invite you to complete the affirmation below, again and again and again, as many times as you like, in your Thoughtbook. Then make a date in your diary or on your calendar, to read through your affirmation list in two or three dayss time and/or a week’s time.
On the read-through, I suggest that you select the most helpful or positive or ‘heart-opening’ affirmations, and write them out again, to post somewhere where you will see them in your daily life.
Or write them on a postcard and mail them back to yourself with a slow-rate stamp.
Or incorporate them into a love letter to yourself.
Talking of which, here is a poem by Derek Walcott (1930-2017), which doesn’t include the word ‘Face’.
Nevertheless it implies a compassionate, kindful self-regard, and the faith that this can be possible.